How many times have you fallen asleep with the lights, or television on, or even stayed up late to use your computer right before going to bed? A key factor in regulating sleep and your biological clocks is exposure to light or to darkness so falling asleep with lights on may not be the best thing for a good night’s sleep.
Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the eye to parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide-awake. Too much light, right before bedtime may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, one study recently found that exposure to unnatural light cycles may have real consequences for our health including increased risk for depression.
Regulating exposure to light is an effective way to keep circadian rhythms in check. During the day, find time for sunlight, or purchase a light-box or light visor to supplement your exposure to light. At night, keep your sleep environment dark. Light-blocking curtains, drapes or an eye mask can also help, and if you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, avoid as much light as possible by using a low illumination night light. For shift workers, who need get their zzz’s during the day wearing dark glasses to block out the sunlight on the way home from work is another way to limit light before bedtime. Some research indicates that the body may never fully adapt to shift work, especially for those who switch to a normal weekend sleep schedule.
Establish a routine for sleep to avoid dozing with the television or lights on. According to Thomas J. Balkin, Ph.D., Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, “The hour before bed is an important time to relax and wind-down before going to sleep. For those who are having problems sleeping, it’s a good idea to consider whether your bedtime routines may be too alerting.” Before bedtime, limit television viewing and computer use, especially in the bedroom, as they hinder quality sleep.
Setting good sleep habits is particularly important for infants and children, as it directly impacts mental and physical development. Circadian rhythms develop at about six weeks, and by three to six months, most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle. Learning to work with your body is essential for good health, because every living creature needs sleep.